Thursday, 3 October 2019

Questions (2)

Martin Kenny


2. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on whether An Garda Síochána has adequate resources to make the new model of policing a success; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40174/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Justice)

Is the Minister confident the Garda Síochána has adequate resources to make the new model of policing a success? Do the new divisional headquarters have their IT systems installed? Is an adequate number of civilian staff in place to make a success of this greatly heralded change? Will the Minister make a statement on this matter?

I very much welcome the roll-out of the new operating model of An Garda Síochána, announced last month by the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris. It meets a key commitment in the implementation plan, following publication last year of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.

This model has been long recommended by independent policing specialists, including the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, the Policing Authority and the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. While new to Ireland, the model is the norm in other countries and I am confident the new structure will lead to a more responsive policing service nationwide.

In developing the plan, the Garda Commissioner has listened carefully to policing experts as well as to the voices of local communities who have consistently made clear they want to see more gardaí on the ground. Reflecting this, the new model is specifically designed to provide a more positive responsive in respect of localised policing service to communities.

The Minister has not answered the question. I asked whether he has confidence because I am certainly not confident. I have spoken to gardaí in recent days and weeks who have told me the new headquarters do not have adequate IT systems in place. The level of new equipment that is supposed to be rolled out with this new plan is central to the new plan working. There is no point in rearranging how management operates unless we ensure the resources are in place to make the arrangements efficient and effective. The impression I am getting, which is a reflection of the reality of what is happening in the real experience of members of An Garda Síochána and community police, is that they do not have access to the level of equipment and structures they need to be in place to deliver this the way they want to deliver it. In fairness, for a long time the case has been made that there needs to be change and I welcome this change. Nobody here is saying we are opposed to it but we must understand that the change must be adequately resourced. For instance, if we go through the streets of Dublin and meet security staff at a doorway they are wearing body cameras. Gardaí do not have these. Gardaí should be leading and on the cutting edge of new technology and not lagging behind. Last week, I spoke to somebody who told me there are four gardaí at a particular Garda station that has one patrol car. When the car is out two of them sit in the station and if a call comes in or they are needed they have no patrol car to go anywhere. This is the reality in many places in rural Ireland, in particular in my very rural constituency where people are very concerned that the level of resources required is not being put in place.

The Deputy asked me two questions, one of which was on headquarters. I assure the House the regional headquarters have been decided by the Garda Commissioner and his team having regard to a number of factors, including population, geography, projected growth, crime trends and the workload in various streams. The Deputy also asked whether I have confidence in the new plan. I very much do have confidence in it. It has the support of the Government and I must acknowledge the support of most parties here in the House. We have been speaking about Garda reform for decades. We now have it and I urge communities and Deputies to embrace the plan and support it. The Government will resource it.

I agree with Deputy Kenny when he says he is from a rural constituency. So am I and so is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Policing plans and practices in these areas are different from the plans and practices that may be required in Deputy O'Callaghan's constituency. We need to acknowledge this.

I will draw on the remarks made by the Garda Commissioner last week at the joint committee. The plan will involve a greater level of activity on the part of the Garda Síochána at local level.

The Garda Síochána is a growing organisation and it enjoys record levels of funding. I hope the latter will continue to be the case after next week's budget.

While I acknowledge that there are more gardaí and that new recruits are going into Templemore, which was closed for a number of years, officers are also retiring. One of the key commitments within the new model of policing is that there would be greater civilianisation of functions in the Garda Síochána. How much of that will happen?

The Minister mentioned rural areas. He represents a rural constituency. We do not see these civilians in rural Garda stations. They are to be found in the divisional headquarters, not ordinary police stations. If people are to have confidence in this new model, they need to see those resources. The Minister stating that more money than ever is being allocated does not deliver that to ordinary people when they have a problem. I spoke to a person who had difficulty with someone lurking near their property and acting suspiciously. The individual in question rang the Garda but it was almost three hours before somebody arrived. That is the problem we have in many rural areas. They want to have the confidence that when they look for a garda, he or she will be there. While I understand that the Minister is doing his best, somehow his best is not delivering for the people. Perhaps a little more than his best is needed.

The record allocation to the Garda Vote will continue into the future. I have every confidence in the Garda Commissioner and his team to ensure the best use of the funding allocated. The new model means more sergeants and inspectors in communities. It means less bureaucracy and duplication at senior Garda level. It means more decision-making powers at local level. It means a greater level of community engagement. It means more expertise available in addressing forms of crime that we need to address in more innovative ways. For example, we have new laws in respect of domestic violence, sexual violence, economic crime, cybercrime and very sophisticated fraud. We need to allow a level of flexibility on the part of gardaí in local divisions to carry out their duties in accordance with the needs of communities. I have every confidence that will happen. I am sure we will be in a position to debate this further as the plan is rolled out.